Annie Leonard and the folks that brought us "The Story of Stuff" have another story to tell: "The Story of Cap and Trade."
Employing the same style of cute animation and earnest monologue, Leonard presents a resolute argument against cap and trade. During the 10 minute film she lays out the problems she sees with the policy, specifically, she identifies 3 devils in the details:
- Companies getting free permits, which she calls "Cap & Giveaway"
- The practice of Offsetting. In this case the concern is with the difficulty of regulating the system and the possibility of companies gaming and cheating the system, resulting in more Co2 emissions than before.
- Distraction. Leonard cites this as the biggest danger: The idea of a cap and trade policy that is rife with loopholes and weak regulation will distract us from more effective solutions.
These potential problems are real but they aren't inherent to the concept of cap and trade. Leonard however, argues that they are inevitable with the policy proposals in their current form. She points out that "if cap and trade weakens our ability to make strong laws," or "if it creates a false sense of progress it's a dangerous distraction."
While I don't believe cap and trade is a waste of time, I have to agree with her that we can't settle for a policy that's been gutted of all it's meaningful regulation and enforcement. The film calls for "Real Climate Solutions" which Leonard outlines as:
- Solid Caps
- Strong Laws
- Citizen Action
- Carbon Fees
I believe these are important things to have in order to effectively curb our carbon emissions, but I think it can still be achieved with a cap and trade system. I think the film is guilty of mischaracterizing a cap and trade. I specifically take issue with this statement that she makes:
"In fact even the economists who invented the cap and trade system to deal with simpler problems like fertilizer pollution and sulfur dioxide, say cap and trade will never work for climate change."
She is referencing a Wall Street Journal article by Jon Hilsenrath from August of this year, in which Thomas Crocker, the man credited with coming up with cap and trade in 1966, takes a critical standpoint against cap and trade. In the article he clearly favors a carbon tax over using cap and trade to address global warming, however he is never quoted as saying that cap and trade will never work. Instead he says, "I'm skeptical that cap-and-trade is the most effective way to go about regulating carbon."
Cap and trade may not be the best way to regulate carbon, but it may be our only way. Ultimately, I like the call to action that she gives the audience to be critical of cap and trade and to be heard, but I worry that people will miss this point, and simply come away from this video with only the message that cap and trade is bad. I'd like to echo Leonard's call for everyone to take a critical look at what's being proposed and not to settle for anything less than a real solution, but just don't count cap and trade out yet.